NOTE: This review is not meant to be a full-featured analysis of Microsoft’s latest product. Instead, it is meant to outline some key observations noted in the first 2 minutes of use.

First Observation
I like the method the VE team has taken to zoom in. When you click the “In” button at the top left of the screen, the currently displayed image immediately zooms in (creating the pixilated view seen below), then tiles over with the new higher-quality zoomed images (including any further details, such as roads).

Virtual Earth - Zoom In

Second Observation
At first, I thought this was a one-time load problem, and that it would go away. As I continued playing with VE, I noticed that it was a major problem.

Apparently, there’s a problem with one of the VE servers. Either it’s overloaded, or actually malfunctioning. In either case, you get randomly broken images (as seen below) on your map. This has the unfortunate side effect of making the entire thing virtually useless.

Virtual Earth - Broken Images

Third Observation
It would also appear that one of their backend servers is malfunctioning (or overloaded)… As you can see in this screenshot, my search for Starbucks locations around the Haywood Mall in Greenville, SC (where I live) is obviously not working. Unless they’re actually calling Starbucks to find all their locations first-hand, in which case I’ll actually wait.

Also, the default searches they populated for “Book Stores” and “Pharmacies” at the bottom are un-closeable. Maybe it’s because their script is locked waiting for Starbucks results… Beats me…

Virtual Earth - Utterly Broken

Combine all these observations and you have an essentially useless “beta” of Google Maps that is totally and utterly broken. There are a couple things about VE that I like (such as the scratchpad), so kudos to the VE team for having some good ideas. Unfortunately, the implementation of those ideas is somewhat lacking…

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes to get these issues worked out…

For those interested, Scoble has a Channel 9 video with the VE team available here.

Oh yeah, and you can actually find Virtual Earth here!

UPDATE: It appears as soon as I finished this review that they have fixed most of their problems. I’m still getting the occasional dead tile, but everything else seems to be loading and working pretty well. I guess we EST-ers have to remember that it’s still only 6:30 on Microsoft-time…

UPDATE 2: It would also appear that everything works flawlessly in IE, but some of the AJAX-driven stuff doesn’t in Firefox. I’m still unable to remove a previous search term from the map, nor switch between them. Come on MSN, you’re sooo close!

UPDATE 3: I found another good review here. Also here, and a critical review (but rightly so) here.

UPDATE 4: And let’s not forget here

Originally published and updated .
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